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Momentum in the

Momentum in the


With more than 100 congressional cosponsors, the bill that will overturn the military's "don't ask, don't tell" is closer than ever to passing. Here's how that will happen

In its ongoing series "Movement in Crisis," The Advocate has reported that our community's advocacy groups have often failed to step up to the plate and get the job done. The magazine's criticisms were sometimes well-justified. In a recent cover story it suggested that the movement to overturn the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy is "stalled," however, missed the mark by a mile.

Since March 2005 the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network has organized 109 bipartisan members of Congress in support of a bill to repeal the military's ban--legislation sponsored by SLDN and introduced by Rep. Marty Meehan. Our original goal for the legislation's first year--in light of an unfriendly Congress--was to secure 40 cosponsors; some of the leading lobbyists in our community suggested even that might be a stretch. The response, we now know, has been more positive than we could have hoped for.

We got it done by bringing together veterans and activists, conservatives and progressives, Democrats and Republicans to fight continued discrimination in our armed forces, our nation's largest employer. Far from being "stalled," the movement to repeal "don't ask, don't tell" is an issue that resonates across political ideologies.

Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, a Maryland Republican who is a Vietnam War veteran, said, "When this issue comes up, members who believe that gays shouldn't be in the military are now more hesitant to voice their opinion. Many of us who feel the other way have come out of the closet, so to speak." Republicans like Representatives Gilchrest, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Christopher Shays, and Jim Kolbe can feel comfortable supporting repeal because SLDN has worked hard to make this issue about lost talent and national security, two issues near and dear to conservative leaders.

There is still work to be done. We need more cosponsors in the House and we need to introduce similar legislation in the Senate. We are poised to do both and our success so far portends good things.

Why are we so optimistic? The military is bleeding personnel, America needs us, and the public agrees with us. And SLDN gets things done. Not many LGBT organizations can say they sponsored a law in Congress that was ultimately signed by President Bush, but we can. SLDN worked hard behind the scenes on passage of a law requiring the Pentagon to provide Congress data relating to all discharges from the military, including gay separations. The legislation is assisting Congress in assessing how military separations are impacting military readiness, and it helps highlight the immense loss of talent at the hands of "don't ask, don't tell."

Our strategy isn't limited to Congress. SLDN also filed a federal constitutional challenge to "don't ask, don't tell" a year ago on behalf of 12 veterans of the war on terror. That litigation isn't "stalled" at all. It is poised to break down the federal government's only law mandating firing gay Americans. It is also poised, we believe, to be the Supreme Court's test case on gays in the military.

SLDN is also continually shining a spotlight on just how counterproductive the military's ban can be. This past year we also publicized a new report from the Congressional Research Service calling into question the continued constitutionality of "don't ask, don't tell." We also worked to obtain a new report from the Government Accountability Office that estimated the cost of the ban at more than $191 million.

Thanks to research funded in part by SLDN, we now know there are 1 million gay veterans in the United States and 65,000 lesbian and gay Americans currently serving in our armed forces.

SLDN has been the leader in orchestrating some of our revered generals and admirals in coming out or coming out in support of repeal. The tidal wave keeps growing.

Most of us understand that civil rights do not occur overnight. They result from careful, long-term planning. In 1993 when Congress passed the current law prohibiting open service many in our community said the game was over and we had lost. They went back to their own work. SLDN, however, stayed and fought. Today, the results of our struggle are undeniable.

With a budget of just over $2 million this year, SLDN has put together a record that rivals that of organizations three, five, and 10 times our size. The momentum we have built--and continue to generate--is breathtaking.

The [Boston] Phoenix recently wrote that "not since 1993 has the gays-in-the-military debate garnered this much attention." The Nation, in profiling SLDN, said, "It's amazing how much this small...organization has accomplished already." And Jeff McGowan, author of Major Conflict, wrote that "as I have gone across the country speaking about being a gay man in the military, I never miss an opportunity to sing the praises of this amazing organization. Over the years their smart, consistent, and diligent approach has decisively moved this issue forward. When gays are allowed to serve, a large measure of the praise for making it happen must go to [SLDN] for their efforts. They are the unsung heroes who spend long hours doing the grunt work of persuading our representatives, one at a time, to overturn this policy."

We welcome The Advocate's continued coverage of gays in the military. And we celebrate our allies that have come forward since SLDN was founded, including veterans in the Call to Duty Tour, the Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military, American Veterans for Equal Rights, and others. We are proud to lead a winning coalition that will usher in a major watershed moment in our community's history.

While we encourage The Advocate to continue challenging all LGBT organizations to deliver better results, to do so fairly it needs to weigh all the evidence and not jump to dire pronouncements. The state of our movement is strong, and keeps growing stronger.

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